UPRISING and balance

On the dedication page of Uprising (released today!)you’ll find a quote from Lanaril Satran, the Lead Templar of Blacksun Temple.

Lanaril quote

Being a templar, Lanaril is of course speaking on several levels. “The body” can refer to an individual, a couple, a community—or an entire culture.

Uprising has many themes running through its epic length. It looks at the way tribal thinking narrows one’s vision, the tendency of anger to rebound on the one wielding it, the power of collective action, and how the weight of injustice becomes its own enforcement.

But most of all, Uprising speaks to the importance of balancing head and heart. Good governance is not just practical decision-making; it must also take into account the emotional well-being of constituents. Good intentions driven by emotion are not enough by themselves; they must take into account the ramifications of a decision.

Andira Tal has been the leader Alsea needed through alien invasion and galactic relations, cultural upheaval, and a coup against the democratic foundations of the unified government. She is a savvy strategist who plans several moves ahead. Yet that same cool, practical thinking limits her as well.

Salomen Opah never wanted to be in politics. She is tied to the land, passionate in defense of her family and caste, and prone to speaking and acting without thinking first. She shares with Tal a strong sense of duty and a willingness to fight for what is right, but her fight comes from belief, not strategy.

They are head and heart. In Uprising, they are both right—and both wrong. The path they take to find a balance will change Alsea forever.

Uprising is available in paperback on Amazon and e-book everywhere. This portal will lead you to whichever version and store is your preference: Nook, Kobo, Amazon, Apple, etc.

May you have a peaceful Easter weekend, with a gloriously epic book to dive into and a good supply of high-quality snacks. And may you find your own balance.

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Posted in writing | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

The brain radio

Our brains do amazing things while we sleep: solve problems, sort out emotions, file memories, make non-linear associations that our conscious, more logical brains can’t manage.

Mine also plays music. I wake up most mornings with a tune playing in my head. It happens to my wife occasionally, too — last Sunday, she woke up with “Baby Come Back” by Player running through her mind, while I woke up humming the theme song from Men in Black.

“Men in Black?” she said when I told her. “Where did that come from?”

I had no idea. The last time I heard it was probably in 1997, when the movie came out and it was all over the airwaves. I’ve never seen the film again, or any of its sequels.

Digital subscriptions make indulging musical whims easy, so while I made breakfast that morning, I put on “Baby Come Back” (and realized just how awful the lyrics are), followed by the theme from Men in Black.

“Huh,” I said when it finished. “I didn’t remember that it was a rap song. I don’t like any part of it but the chorus.” Which was, of course, the bit that had been running through my brain radio upon waking.

In case you don’t recall the theme, here it is. No need to listen past the first 33 seconds unless you love either rap or Will Smith (or both).

 

Shrugging, I set my phone to the playlist I had been listening to while working over the weekend: a curated list of R&B favorites from the 1980s.

Now, R&B fans probably know where this is going. In my defense, I’ll say that I came to my love of R&B late in life. In my youth, I went straight from the Carpenters to Heart and Quarterflash, and then to Sting, Kate Bush, and Vivaldi, skipping right over R&B until a few decades later.

So I had no idea that the chorus for the Men in Black theme was ripped directly from a 1982 hit by Patrice Rushen — until it started to play while I was stirring milk into the oatmeal.

I stopped, mouth open, then laughed and called out to my wife, “I know why I woke up with the Men in Black theme song!”

“I do, too!” she called back.

I’ve since downloaded this song into my library. It’s an awesome tune, with none of that pesky rap interrupting the bluesy goodness. Once again I am agog at the ability of the unconscious brain to draw connections the conscious brain cannot. I hadn’t heard the movie’s theme song in ages, yet my brain remembered and drew the lines.

Or perhaps I should say, my unconscious brain sent me a forget-me-not.

Posted in music | Tagged | 6 Comments

Alsea lovers: This is the one you’ve been waiting for

One of the best things about writing a series is the ability to have long-term story arcs running through multiple books. There are a number of those in the Chronicles of Alsea, one of which has been running since Book One.

And now we’re on Book Eight.

I’m delighted to announce that Uprising will be released on Friday, April 19, just in time for the Easter weekend. And it’s a barn burner, answering many questions and concluding several multi-book story arcs.

UPRISING small

Here are just a few of the questions that will be answered in Uprising:

  • What happened to the Voloth soldiers?
  • Why did divine tyrees suddenly reappear after a thousand cycles?
  • How is Salomen adapting to the demands of being Bondlancer on top of her responsibilities as head of her family and holding?
  • Why did Tal act so out of character at the end of Outcaste? Can she resolve it?

Uprising takes us back to Alsea and gives a voice to two new main characters: Prime Builder Anjuli Eroles and Voloth spokesperson Rax Sestak. We’ve seen them before, of course, but as minor characters. Now they’re our guides to different parts of Alsean life: as a Voloth settler and as a political player who isn’t at the top of the heap.

Which is not to say we’ve lost our earlier guides. Tal and Salomen both get a great deal of time on stage, accompanied by all the others who have made such an impression on readers: Lanaril, Vellmar, Micah, Lhyn, Ekatya, and Rahel, not to mention Salomen’s family on Hol-Opah.

Uprising is a sweeping epic designed to immerse readers and not let them go. Here is the synopsis:

A caste Prime with a personal grudge that may bring down the government. A captured soldier seeking peace with his former enemies. A rural landowner thrust into the highest levels of political power.

As Alsea looks to the future, its foundations are cracked by the past. The peaceful coexistence of six castes was shaped by an ancient injustice, but when Bondlancer Salomen Opah commits a well-meaning act, she disrupts the careful balance. Now Alsea teeters on the brink of caste war.

Standing between past and future are three people whose lives have been sent on a collision course by events beyond their control. An avalanche has begun, and only great courage and sacrifice can stop it.

You’ll find it on Amazon, Kobo, Nook, Apple Books, and several other platforms — I’ll post a universal link on release day. In the meantime, for those Alsea lovers who have been waiting for this: don’t plan on getting much sleep that Friday night.

Posted in writing | Tagged , , | 22 Comments

The chicken church

This image came across my Facebook feed today and made me laugh:

Chickenchurch

…and then I saw this comment:

This is The Church By The Sea in Madeira Beach FL. The owl/chicken/bird…whatever you see was intentional. It was a fishing town and there was a tale of a bird that watched out for the fishermen. When the church was built, they put the bird there as a symbol. The light would stay on until all the fishermen came home. 

Which sounded really sweet, and possibly too good to be true. So I went searching and found absolutely no mention of this legend, not on the church’s Facebook page and not on their own website.

What I did find, on Atlas Obscura, was the basis for that story. When the church was built, its tower — with a mast and beacon on top — was the tallest thing in town, and the beacon was indeed meant to act as a nautical landmark.

The bird bit? Totally accidental. That said, the church attracts many tourists precisely for its famous tower, and it has embraced the image in its logo:ChickenchurchlogoFor an accident of architectural design, it’s fortuitous. Honestly, I’m thinking more churches should start incorporating such friendly, inviting design. How does anyone go by this without smiling and feeling just a little better about their day?

Churchbysea

Posted in humor, USA | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

DIY

All the DIY-ers out there will undoubtedly recognize aspects, if not all, of this story. It is the true-life account of our little chore last night: replacing a bare light bulb in the bathroom ceiling (made of plaster, brick, and cement) with a real light fixture.

It also involves “easy instructions,” which should give a clue of what’s to come.

On with the tale!

DIY Disasters

This did not actually happen.

*****

First order of business: get the cover off the hole in the ceiling. One screw holding it, great.

Discover that the screw is painted in place. <grumble>

Three screwdrivers, two climbs up and down the ladder, and five minutes later, break the screw free.

Discover that the screw is stripped. <swear>

Spend five minutes ascertaining that even though it’s stripped, it won’t come out.

Grab cover and yank the damn thing off the ceiling, causing a small shower of plaster on my head as the screw explodes out of its hole. Hear screw ping and bounce somewhere in the bathroom. Figure I’ll find it later.

Detach live and neutral wires from the harness in the ceiling. Tuck the ground wire back up into the hole. Get the other two nicely arranged to slip through the central opening of the light fixture’s mounting bracket.

Climb off ladder, put down screwdriver, grab bracket and pencil, climb back up ladder.

Establish where the mounting bracket will go. Mark holes. Climb down ladder. Get out drill, bits, ear muffs, and goggles. Note that last time I used this drill, I had younger eyes. Now that my near vision is shot to hell, I have to wear the goggles over reading glasses. Fun. Climb back up ladder.

Drill pilot holes. Clean and easy.

Swap out 3 mm bit for 6 mm. Drill 20 mm of a 30 mm hole. Stop dead.

Push all my weight against the drill which I am holding above shoulder level. Watch the effort widen the base of the hole while s.l.o.w.l.y deepening it. Stop twice to rest arms and breathe. Get hole to 26 mm. Stop so dead that I’m pretty sure I’ve hit a rock.

Stare accusingly at my drill, which looks like this:

Bosch drill

Wish it looked like this:

Boss drill

Climb down ladder. Move to other side. Climb up ladder.

Drill the second hole. Sweat, swear, grunt, probably pop a blood vessel, but get the damn thing 30 mm deep. WHEW.

Recall that somewhere in the house is a new drill bit. Climb down ladder. Locate. Swap out, climb up ladder, try again with the first hole.

After a solid two minutes of heart-attack inducing overhead effort, get it to 28 mm. Good enough. The plastic drywall anchor will stick out, but we can cut off the tip.

Spit plaster dust out of mouth. Decide shirt is a lost cause.

Insert anchors, put bracket in place, start sinking screws. No problem with the easy hole. The other one…is now too wide. The screw just spins the anchor in place.

Swear.

Climb down ladder, prepare to swap out drill bits to drill a 7 mm hole for the larger anchor bolt size. My wife Maria says wait, maybe we can jury rig this. She takes a simple anchor bolt — the plastic sleeve kind for the tiniest screws — cuts it lengthwise, and wraps it around the base of the original anchor bolt.

Works like a charm. Damn.

Screw mounting bracket in place.

WHEW. Step one done!

Climb down ladder. Pick up light fixture, which is different than any I’ve done before. It has a rectangular plastic box holding the bulb and wiring snug against the glass plate. I need to take off a little plastic cover at one end of this box, push the live and neutral wires through the tiny openings for them, screw down the little bolts that hold them in place, replace the plastic cover, screw it down with the World’s Smallest Screws, then slip the fixture onto the mounting bracket and screw it in place with the World’s Second Smallest Screws. Easy!

Except.

(Climb back up ladder.)

This is physically impossible given that the rectangular box is fastened to the bottom of the fixture, which has sides an inch high, and once I’ve got the wires in place, the whole thing is so close to the ceiling (and blocked by the raised sides) that I would need a screwdriver approximately 1 cm in length to screw down the posts holding the wires. Not to mention eyesight that I lost somewhere around the age of ten.

Spend approximately 20 minutes trying to figure out how the hell this can be done.

Maria suggests using another wiring harness and additional wire to lengthen the overall wire length. Where can we get more wire? From the original bulb that was hanging there!

Climb down the ladder.

Maria tries to unscrew the bulb’s base to get the wiring out. Can’t do it. Hands it to me and turns to do something else. I take wire clippers and clip the damn things. She turns back and says, “How did you get them out??” I consider bullshitting, but admit the truth.

Realize I have no wire strippers.

Learn that I suck at stripping wire with clippers.

Learn that my wife is really good at it. (How?? She never does it!)

Wire up the harness and get everything placed in the light fixture while it’s resting on the kitchen counter. Even then, it’s a freaking nightmare requiring five hands, three tools, and a live animal sacrifice to the electronics goddess. It’s also a miracle that neither of the World’s Smallest Screws for that plastic cover were lost. Wonder how the hell anyone was supposed to do that up on a ladder while holding the light in one hand and having one remaining hand to press a wire in place and simultaneously screw down the post. And then somehow get that plastic cover on with the itty bitty screws? Who designed this thing, an alien?

Finger hands

The kind of hands necessary to install this light as described in the instructions.

Take jury-rigged light to the bathroom. Climb ladder. Realize I am over fifty.

Holding light in one hand, use other hand to poke ceiling wires into the other end of the harness. Accept screwdriver from helpful wife. Screw the holding posts down. Push light into place on mounting bracket. Trade screwdrivers with wife. Accept the World’s Second Smallest Screws, which are of course just large enough to require a different screwdriver. Hold light in place with one hand while miraculously not dropping a screw with the other. Get it put in.

Climb down ladder. Move to other side of light.

Climb up ladder. Screw in final screw.

Climb down ladder. Think longingly of a fairy who would come in, waft me off to a spa, clean me up, and put me to bed. I am covered in dust from drilling and completely exhausted.

“Shall we see if it works?” Maria says.

Nod numbly. Lean on ladder while Maria trips merrily down the hall to the fuse box, flips the circuit breaker, trots back to the bathroom, and snaps on the light.

Squint against what is now the brightest light in the entire house. On the one hand, it works. On the other hand, I might get a sunburn while peeing in here. Maybe I should have gotten one a tad less bright?

Envision taking this light down and putting up a different one.

Say, “It’s perfect.”

Total time installing the “simple” light fixture (“just drill two holes, mount the bracket, plug in the wires, and go!”): >2 hours.

Rooms covered in DIY debris in the process: bathroom, hallway, kitchen.

Time to clean up: 30 minutes.

Still waiting for that fairy.

Posted in humor, life | Tagged , | 12 Comments

Becoming

Becoming

Once, while I worked at a public aquarium, I gathered eggs from one sea anemone and sperm from another and combined the two under a microscope. As I watched, one of the eggs divided into two cells, then four, then eight. That was as far as it got before dying from the heat of the scope’s light, but those few minutes were one of the most profound experiences I’ve ever had. Witnessing life creating itself…it’s pure magic.

This video takes that treasured memory and expands it about one-hundredfold. In six minutes, you will see the transformation of a single cell into a newly-hatched newt — magic.

(The embryonic folding is especially boggling. I was transfixed.)

I can’t embed the video, but you really, really should watch it.

Posted in biology, life, video | Tagged | 4 Comments

On being happy

Two recent events have made me pause and ponder, so if you don’t mind a little philosophy…

By now, pretty much the whole world has seen the video of gymnast Katelyn Ohashi scoring a perfect 10 at the Collegiate Challenge. If this somehow got past you, go to the UCLA Gymnastics Twitter feed and watch a minute and a half of near-physical impossibility. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Is that not phenomenal? As many have noted by now, part of what makes Katelyn’s routine so irresistibly fun is her obvious enjoyment. This is a gymnast having a good time at competition, taking delight in what she has trained her body to do.

For those of us who normally watch gymnastics only during the Olympics, this is not something we’re used to seeing. There, we see a deadly serious business conducted by unsmiling teenagers (except during their floor routines) who appear to have traded a childhood for a shot at a medal.

Here, let’s watch Katelyn again, enjoying herself every bit as much as she moonwalks through a 9.950 score, this time putting her team over the top to win the Pac-12 Championships last year.

What I notice in this video, besides the eye-popping skill and the contagious joy, is that Katelyn’s entire team is doing the routine with her. Just watch them dancing and shuffle/clapping through the Michael Jackson “Thriller” move. That is really something you don’t see in elite competition.

It wasn’t always like this for Katelyn Ohashi.

At one time, she seemed destined to sit atop the heap of elite gymnastics. She was on the USA Gymnastics team for four years, winning the junior championship in 2011 and beating teammate Simone Biles to win the American Cup in 2013. The next step was the Olympics.

It all fell apart when her body did. Sixteen years old at the time, she had been competing with a torn shoulder. Recovering from that, she returned to competition and suffered a fractured back that required surgery. By the time she emerged from that setback, she had decided to retire from elite gymnastics.

Her path changed dramatically when she met Valorie Kondos Field, head coach of the UCLA Gymnastics team. “Miss Val,” as she is affectionately known, offered Katelyn a scholarship and a completely different philosophy of competition: one built on teamwork, authenticity, and true care for her athletes.

In this new environment, Katelyn thrived — and rediscovered her joy in gymnastics. It was a joy that had been missing for a long time.

This 6-minute video is very much worth watching, as it tells the story of Katelyn’s journey from promising junior gymnast to sensational collegiate success. One of the things I noticed while watching: Katelyn does not smile in the early footage. Miss Val changed that.

“I look up to my coach so much,” she says in the video. “My mom wasn’t exactly happy when I quit elite gymnastics to go to college. Miss Val asked her why she had, like, a change of heart. And she said, ‘I see how happy my daughter is.'”

This got me curious about Valorie Kondos Field, so I looked her up. Guess what? She’s not a gymnast. She has never been a gymnast. She hasn’t done so much as a flip. What she has done is ballet: at the Sacramento Ballet, the Capital City Ballet, and the Washington, D.C. Ballet. Yet she is considered one of the finest gymnastics coaches of all time, having taken the Bruins to seven NCAA national championships and fifteen PAC-12 conference championships.

How does a ballet dancer go on to become one of the winningest gymnastics coaches of all time? Miss Val just published a book that shares her methods: Life is Short, Don’t Wait to Dance. From her book page:

Valorie Kondos Field — or Miss Val, as she’s affectionately known — has never even tumbled, flipped, or ever played any type of organized sports and yet she has been able to craft a legendary coaching career through curiosity, creativity, intention to detail, and unwavering care for the overall well-being of her athletes. For Miss Val, it’s not about the X’s and O’s, it’s about choreographing your life and owning the choices you make.

Choreographing your life, prioritizing well-being…these resonated with me, along with Katelyn’s restored joy, because I made a choice last year that has had similar results.

I was putting a great deal of pressure on myself to “succeed” as a novelist — meaning, sell enough books to make a living at it. As anyone affiliated with publishing knows, this is possible, but so is winning the lottery. One’s best chance is to write romance, which I don’t, and to be extremely good at self-marketing and social media, which I’m not.

After one too many sleepless nights, in which I woke in the wee hours and couldn’t get back to sleep due to the mental hamster wheel whirling uselessly — you should be doing X, and learning how to do Y, and why haven’t you done Z yet? — I arrived at a realization: I could define success for myself.

And so I have. I succeed when I live my one and only life in a way that brings joy to me and those around me. When I put out the very best work I can, right down to the last individual word choice. When I write stories that are complex enough to reward multiple re-readings, and universal enough to stand the test of time.

I am already succeeding.

It was surprisingly easy to take the pressure off myself, and once I did, a funny thing happened: I rediscovered the joy of writing. Like Katelyn Ohashi, I am smiling through my routine.

Way up at the top of this post, I said two recent events had inspired my pondering. The second was the death of the incomparable poet Mary Oliver.

One of the most famous and oft-quoted Oliver lines, from her poem “The Summer Day,” is what kick-started me into writing novels in the first place. This was the line:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Today I went back and reread the whole poem — and I see it with new eyes. It is not, as my spotty memory told me, a challenge to make the most of one’s life. It is an exhortation to live, to enjoy the tiny pleasures of life, for the limited time we have.

Here it is in its entirety:

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean —
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down —
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

There is wisdom in the world, shared by those who have already learned the lessons. Miss Val teaches it to her athletes, and brought joy to a “broken” young woman as a result. Mary Oliver taught it to millions with her words, and continues to do so after her death.

Perhaps the ultimate success is not just to live in joy, but to teach others to do the same — and to leave beauty behind when we go.

Posted in life, sport, writing | Tagged , | 12 Comments

Winterfest! (for Mac users)

Every December, some of the best developers in the Mac community collect at Winterfest and offer their apps for 25% off. It’s a great time to pick up a program or two that you might have been thinking about but put off due to the cost. 

There are 18 apps on offer this year, including four that are in near-constant usage in our house. 

Winterfest 2018

 

Scrivener is the single program I would take with me if I were trapped on a desert island with only my laptop and a solar-powered battery. It is absolutely, 100% indispensable to my writing process. I’ve been using it since the original beta back in 2006. It’s not just for novels, either — my wife writes her academic articles on it, lawyers love it for writing up briefs and collecting research for a case, screenwriters adore it…the list goes on. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

HoudahSpot does one thing and does it magically. It’s a file search program. Need to find a file but can only remember part of the name? No problem. Can’t remember the name at all but know a string of words inside the document? Watch the magic. If you had an essay on Hamlet and typed in “Alas, poor Yorick,” HoudahSpot would nail that file in a hot second.

My wife swears by Bookends, which manages her zillion sources for bibliographies. It’s powerful and integrates perfectly with her Mac workflow (and she’s picky about things like that).

Nisus Writer Pro is the top Mac word processor and has rescued me from MS Word bondage. It has best-in-class Track Changes that is not only compatible with Word, but is also far easier to use (and prettier). It benefits by not trying to pack in everything including the kitchen sink, so it has a much simpler interface than the Microsoft behemoth, but that doesn’t mean it’s not ridiculously powerful (and incredibly customizable).

The other 14 apps on sale include such powerhouses as BBEdit, DEVONthink Pro Office and DEVONagent Pro, Scapple, TextExpander, PDFpen…oh, just go over and look. If you’re a Mac user or know one, this might take care of a few Christmas gifts.

Posted in tech | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

We wants it!

Speaking as an observer of Brexit (from a healthy distance), I can only say in response to today’s news: what the hell?

It’s anybody’s guess as to what Theresa May thinks she can accomplish by putting off a Commons vote she knew she would lose. Certainly the EU negotiators and leaders are boggling at her claim that she is planning further negotiations on the Irish backstop. Twenty-seven nations have signed off on the current agreement. There is no more negotiation. This is the political equivalent of running after a taxi with its service light turned off — that taxi is not going to stop.

In the meantime, Andy Serkis — the actor who brought Gollum to life in the Lord of the Rings films — has just made his own political stance clear with a video that is black humor at its finest. My wife and I laughed so hard we were on the edge of tears.

Behold: Theresa Gollum May, caught on video in her parlor.

(The ticking clock was a brilliant touch — not only exemplifying the posh parlor but also literally counting down the seconds…)

Posted in humor, politics, video | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Celebrating the return of rights!

It has been three years since I signed away the rights to the two Without A Front books — The Producer’s Challenge and its conclusion, The Warrior’s Challenge — and those rights have now returned to me. It’s a good, good feeling to have full control over my work again.

To celebrate, I’m offering both books in ebook format for just $2.99 each, a sale I’m only advertising to my blog readers and the book club that I hang out with on Facebook.

Why buy them again if you already have them? I can think of three reasons:

1) The gorgeous new covers. I collaborated with the same artist who created the fabulous phoenix cover for Outcaste, and the results have been glorious.

2) The Warrior’s Challenge has been re-edited, tightened, smoothed out, and had some new dialogue added. It’s a faster, better read.

3) At this price, each book costs less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

And did I mention the covers? I’m getting them printed out in poster size so I can frame them. The Warrior’s Challenge in particular knocked my socks off, with its purples and blues, the river reflecting moonlight and trees, the formal garden visible through the title, the classic beauty of the State House, and…that sword.

book cover of Without A Front: The Warrior's Challenge

You can find both books at Amazon, Apple Books, Kobo, Barnes & Noble — all the usual places. Head over to Without A Front: The Producer’s Challenge and click the “Get it Now” button, which will whisk you to whichever store you prefer.

The gateway to Without A Front: The Warrior’s Challenge is here.

This sale will last until Friday, as a thank you to the folks who have been with me the longest. You’re the best!

Posted in good news, writing | Tagged , , | 12 Comments